Face the Face Facts

Facial expressions.

     Scientists have proven that your dog studies your facial expressions and reads the slightest change. CNN, to name but one source reported dogs can recognize a person's emotions just by looking at his or her facial expressions. They have been quite adept at reading the micro-expressions of faces. Much like dogs, humans, whether we realize it or not in the moment of interactions, have become adept at reading the big and small facial nuances of people they interact with, also. How accurate is that read, though?


     We all know what a simple facial expression is, but maybe not a micro expression? “Micro expressions are very brief facial expressions, lasting only a fraction of a second. They occur when a person either deliberately or unconsciously conceals a feeling.” says Dr. Paul Ekman. (see a link below for his work.)     

     In the last fifteen years, some traveling martial arts instructors have wowed attendees with their revelations about violence and crime, and the wonders of psychology and fighting, But a pop topic on their amazing tours on violence is often “reading criminal intent” and facial and micro-expressions. And since old things need to constantly introduced to new people, and re-introduced to the forgetful, and tortured by the skeptics, I will expound a bit on the subject of faces, expressions and micro-expressions, and who, what, where, how and why you can’t completely trust your textbook judgements, or your seminar advice, and even tell a quick story about how tricky it all might be. Keep in mind, I am not a psychologist. I don’t even play one on television. In the end, resort back to the experts.

     A simple facial expression is defined as one or more motions or positions of the muscles beneath the skin of the face. Facial expressions are one form of nonverbal communication. It is universally regarded that there are seven micro-expressions, as mentioned above: 

1: disgust, 
2: anger, 
3: fear, 
4: sadness, 
5: happiness, 
6: surprise, 
7: and contempt.

     Facial expressions can change quickly, but last longer than a micro-expression. Experts report that micro-expressions are quick changes and are very brief, unintentional, involuntary moves on ALL our faces. A flash. The lab experts state that these emotions often occur as fast as 1/15 to 1/25 of a second. THAT…is fast. And we (and dogs!) can see them!

     “In other words, people in the US make the same face for sadness as indigenous people in Papa New Guinea who have never seen TV or movies to model. Dr. Ekman also found that congenitally blind individuals—those blind since birth, also make the same expressions even though they have never seen other people’s faces.” Reports Vanessa Van Edwards, a published author and behavioral investigator.     

     In my travels around the world, be it in international airports or even to the most primitive places I've been in Philippines, or isolated villages in South Korea, I saw so many similar expressions at appropriate times as Vanessa suggested. A smile at the right time. A frown at the right time. Very generic situations.

     People are fascinated by this face-reading subject, though it always seems though to lean toward the subject of lies, lie detection and salesmanship. People want to “read” other people and detect the truth. Oh, and sell stuff. Some folks sell you on how to do it. One ad for doing this said, 
“read people like a superhero!” Or, 
“be a mind-reader.”

And who doesn’t want to be mind-reader? But can you? Can you count on all this when push comes to shove? The human race is constantly trying to quantify and categorize everything. Laying a square grid on a round terrain. What do the critics of this say?

mad rush 2 ways 3

Critics of this “always happens” simplicity will state that the research test methods identifying emotions with expressions are too simplistic. Another criticism is that test takers and people can only identify what they are used to from their personal experiences. Another complaint is such studies on this are rare and more research is need.

Problems – Some Faces are indeed tricky.
Nick Morgan of Forbes studies politicians and communication and looked at politicians whose faces and words do not match, creating a distrusting awkwardness. “What happens when your words and body language don’t match? Audiences believe the body language every time. But they don’t consciously take the two apart. Our minds are constructed to infer intent from our unconscious reading of other people’s body language. That’s for obvious survival reasons. In other words, if someone starts walking toward me, it’s important for my survival to be able to decode his intent very quickly, and act on it, in case he appears to mean to do me harm. Our unconscious minds are very good at reading the intent of the people who come within our sphere of awareness. And when they’re talking at us, we unconsciously compare words and body language. When they’re aligned, we get the communication. When they’re not aligned, we believe the body language.”

Problems – Reduced Affect Display 
Sometimes referred to as “Emotional Blunting is a condition of reduced emotional reactivity in an individual. It manifests as a failure to express feelings (affect display ) either verbally or non-verbally, especially when talking about issues that would normally be expected to engage the emotions. Expressive gestures are rare and there is little animation in facial expression or vocal inflection. Reduced affect can be symptomatic of autism , schizophrenia , depression , post traumatic stress disorder, depersonalization disorder , or brain damage . It may also be a side effect of certain medications (e.g., antipsychotics and antidepressants).” – a quote used in numerous psychology and medical definition pages.
So, some folks (how many people are on drugs in our countries? A lot!) may not display their emotions "properly" on their faces. These people also confront you, fight you and break the law.

Problems – Acting
I am always intrigued by actors on TV and in films. (you can’t see their faces up close on the stage.) They play innocent, or they even play a nuanced guilty, or pretend to be innocent, etc. We viewers will comment, “she’s innocent.” “She’s not telling the truth.” “I believe him.” But hang on! Pull one curtain back. Remember they…are…ACTORS! And they fooled you. If people can be so damn convincingly deceptive on film, can’t people also in all your interactions?

Problems – The Trick Face – The Quick Story
When I was in police patrol I tried to practice a 50-10 rule. Fifty minutes of driving, ten minutes of just parking and watching/observing. That rule may vary, and of course most patrol officers are busy answering calls anyway. Who has a free hour? For many a year I worked in the “projects,” and all that, that term represents. Periodically, parked on the same streets of high volume people and car traffic, I would often see this black dude, late 20s, walking with a hideous scowl on his face. To me, a face of hate when he got close and his eyes passed over me. Race relations were bad at the times, but wow! When he got near me, near my patrol car? He must have despised me!

     One day, I saw this guy coming down the street again, sneering as usual. I decided to try something. I said to myself I am going to do something. See what happens. I am going to smile as big as I can and wave to him. He got closer and closer and looked at me. We made eye contact. I smiled broadly and flicked a hand for a wave.

     What did he do? He smiled broadly back, cracking the mad sneer into a huge, grinning display. He nodded his head, as his hands were full. Then as he passed, the smile disappeared and he returned to his mad face. Then I realized…that was just his face, his everyday face! I believe most of us would have thought he was mad and ready to fight! I was wrong.

     Then there's "Resting Bitch Face!" Yes, look it up or check the link below. This when your face, when expressionless, is best described as vaguely annoyed looking, maybe a little judgy, perhaps bored. 

     Anyone could get thess faces wrong. What is normal? What is abnormal? You need a base-line. You actually need a base-line that connects a specific individual with a specific reaction/emotion.

Trusting the Face Reads?
Have you ever tricked your dog with your expressions? 

As far as the face goes in a fight, I try to warn people that "the face is a mask. He may look worse then he can fight, and fight worse than he looks." The face is deceptive. (oh, quick tip – is he has a cauliflower ear? Gulp. Now there's a REAL working tip for ya!)


     We could really split some hairs here on several levels. Like with the difference between surprise statements to people and their surprise reactions. Or, what will actors (or prepped suspects) do when they know they will be presented with surprise questions. People "act" differently in an interview or interrogation room, than they do in a sudden "street" Q. and A.  And so on. But…ordinarily?

    Yes…ordinarily. There is an old joke about the Ten Commandments. The comedian says he could live with the Big Ten if God had just asked Moses to chisel in the word, “ordinarily” after each one.

“Thou shalt not covet they neighbor’s goods…ordinarily.”
“Thou shalt not….ordinarily.”

You get the drift. He adds the word "ordinarily" to each commandment.

     I have interviewed and interrogated hundreds of criminals and thousands of witnesses. Maybe even more in almost 30 years. I have my own set of instincts, perhaps hard to explain on paper, but thank goodness I can use the totality of circumstances to find more final conclusions than just a fluttering eyebrow or other teeny, micro-expression tips. You should too. I guess what I am trying to suggest is, you should trust facial expressions and micro-expressions…somewhat…”ordinarily.”

“Thou shalt trust all facial and micro-expression readings…ordinarily.”


Dr Palekman's Micro Expressions – Click here

Resting BItch Face- Click here

Read the new Secret Life of the Brain for more "revolutionary" discoveries in this topic – Click here

Read about "Countering Poker Faces" Click here

Hock's email is HockHochheim@ForceNecessary.com

This is excerpted from Hock's upcoming book, Fightin Words

1-cover Fighten words_med


 Due out December, 2017

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